“Justin's Bike Fund” rolled into Weed Sunday afternoon with bicycles for children who lost their belongings in the Boles Fire.
“Justin’s Bike Fund” rolled into Weed Sunday afternoon with bicycles for children who lost their belongings in the Boles Fire.
The fund was created by Justin Gonzalez nine years ago when his father Raul went to New Orleans to help in the wake of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. Justin was six years old.
“I knew I couldn’t go with my dad but I wanted to start something. I wanted to help and give back to the community in my own way,” he explained.
Justin was an avid bicycle rider, so when he and his mom, Lori, put their heads together they came up with bikes.
“Now it seems like a pretty far-fetched idea for a six year old, since bicycles can go for hundreds of dollars,” he said with a smile.
But nine years later, three generations of Gonzalez men – Justin, his father, and his grandfather Frank – were in Weed’s Sons of Italy Hall to give away 42 bicycles.
They’d even persuaded Santa to attend, to present each child with a bicycle, and to deliver the bikes to any children who couldn’t attend Sunday’s event. Justin, his father, and his grandfather served as Santa’s helpers.
“I’m very proud of my son and grandson,” Frank Gonzalez said with a smile. “It’s hard work, and they do a good job.”
How ‘Justin’s Bike Fund’ began
When Justin’s father traveled to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, he was a reserve fire investigator for the Chico Fire Department, which had an “Adopt a Family” program. When Justin decided he wanted to give away bicycles to people in need, the Gonzalez family connected with the program.
They donated 15 bicycles that first year.
“My mom and I went door to door in my neighborhood, the Amber Grove subdivision, with an empty pickle jar,” Justin said. He raised more than $1,000.
Since then, donations have gotten larger as people have become more familiar with the fund, he said. In 2008, “Justin’s Bike Fund” went a step further and became a foundation through the North Valley Community Foundation.
“It’s been a blessing for the whole family,” including Justin’s sister and two brothers, Raul said. “We all play a part hunting through toy stores to find good deals on bikes, building the bikes that need assembling, and identifying people who need them.”
The foundation has been so successful they’ve even had to purchase a 10 foot trailer, he added. “We outgrew making deliveries in my pick-up truck.”
When the Gonzalez family heard about the Boles Fire and the children who had been impacted by its destruction, a large scale bicycle donation seemed like a natural fit.
Justin and his father got in touch with folks in Weed through Butte County Children’s Services, and they went to work with help from Siskiyou County resident Karen Dettman and others who collected the names of the children affected.
Dettman works for South Siskiyou County’s Toys for Tots program. She said she helped identify 29 students in Weed, and several more in the Dunsmuir, Butteville, and Mount Shasta schools.
All told, ‘Justin’s Bike Fund’ provided 42 bicycles on Sunday to students who had lost their homes and belongings in the Boles Fire, and each child who received a bike also got a toy.
“The toys were donated by Toys for Tots and by groups from Sonoma and Crescent City,” Dettman reported.
She thanked Margaret Dean for donating rooms in the Hi-Lo Motel for the Gonzalez family during their visit and the Sons of Italy for donating their Hall for the event, complete with hot chocolate and cookies.